Between Dust and Star

Today Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in the theaters, but I’ll be waiting to see it until the heat dies down and the Christmas season ends. It’s important to me, but not so much that I would insist on joining the literal crowd. Life is, as it turns out, already quite crowded enough.

I was scanning satellite radio today, which I do not normally do, while running errands, driving through our snowy streets with my dog in the backseat, when I happened upon a mind-blowing discussion. The BBC radio program Crowd Science on Sirius XM, in my first time listening, was airing an episode about the science of household dust.

What struck me, among other things, is the living diversity resident in our everyday dust bunnies. Millions of microbes, fungi, insect and arthropod parts, dead skin, hair, and mostly fabric fibers. VOCs, too, to be sure. One perspective urged policy changes in the safety of household products to reduce the numbers of toxins sold to consumers, while another noted that we can safely live with a fair amount of dust and that some of the ways it is created (bacteria pooping out gold, for instance) may actually be beneficial.

Interesting as well was the expert perspective on how and how often to dust one’s home. Not too frequently but just enough so that the dust doesn’t permanently attach to the surface of furniture and other materials, which it will do for a few different reasons, by a few different chemical processes. One has to do with bacteria, another with humidity changes, and I forget the third. Dust on surfaces of dressers and tables can become permanent film that only a professional restoration service will be able to lift.

One’s dust can reveal under a microscope quite a lot of specifics about who one is and where one lives. Bald residents without pets will have far less hair in their dust bunnies, as a volunteer resident of Australia helped the program to reveal. And certain plants and fungi only live in certain areas, laying their detritus in the trims of our doorways to the outside. Dust is usually gray, even if you have colorful hair and a vibrant wardrobe, due to the blending of many colors that can be seen individually only when examined up close.

My own thoughts from the program?

Although we have the traditional saying from the Bible “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” little did we then know how much more than inanimate dirt our dust contained. Even after we die, the microbes we have shed comprise our ashes, especially when mixed again after, say, crematory sterilization, with the living ecosystems in outdoor soils, material surfaces, and liquid solutions. In death, there is always life, not just the promise of new life. It is not a linear, isolated cycle but a multifaceted, continuous whirlwind.

This quite changes the view of our bodily rest.

If spiritually we find peace, rest assured, our bodies and their shed layers never really do. We might as well say the remains of our deceased have been laid not to rest but to writhe and wriggle, freeze and thaw, moisten and re-crystallize, expand and contract, and generally remain restless and teeming with all kinds of life, as long as some trace of themselves stays detectable by microscope in their bodies’ places of final rest.

It lends new meaning, but perhaps less importance, to the notion that our molecules go literally everywhere whether we are alive or dead, and that our skin sheds enough to help create a whole new being left behind from our person repeatedly during our lives.

The bottom line is that there is no true separation on a physical level, none that we can see and distinguish with our hands and eyes unaided by science, between our biological lives and the lives of millions and millions of others of too many different living species to count.

The implications are up for grabs. Be grossed out. Claim it as an incentive for wildlife conservation (“we are one, literally”) and the fight against climate change, which may be inevitable regardless of human effort (the fight and the change). Justify strange personal hygiene habits. Do what you will with the information.

I find it fascinating whatever the outcome. The fullness of life is restored in my eyes. We’re not alone, in so many ways, and now in so many more. With knowledge come further questions and mysteries to explore. What does it mean for DNA testing or insect phobias or the obsessively compulsively clean? Are identity errors somehow possible because of these minglings and cross-contaminations, if you will? How can allergens in food products take our blame, or at least all the blame, for auto-immune conditions when the number of possible allergens in our environments is so unimaginably large? Far more in the air and environment than in our food, and even more so when we ingest them with our food. #washyourhands

Can we be too clean? What then? If we all live in such bodily zoos, should we re-define what it is to be dirty? How do all the tiny lives of our dust affect our thinking, behaviors, and fates? How does our awareness of them change our sense of ourselves? Of who we are as individuals or groups?

Above all, how does this influence our answer to the question of what it means to be human? If cleanliness is next to Godliness, do we not now see that it was always a pipe dream to strive for divinity? For purity? For resemblance to the necessarily unnaturally immaculate deity? For this vision of God does not allow for God to know dirt first hand.

When the lines of our very beings blur so completely like this, what implications could the inherent blending have for other lines in our lives? Other boundaries? Limitations? Segregations? At what point do physical differences then stop influencing minds and societies? At what point should they? We have more in common, as they say, than we have of differences. This turns out to be truer than we had ever before imagined.

However, I am no more or less motivated now to dust my home. Housekeeping was never a calling for me, but at least now I feel a little better equipped to cut down on my household dust and keep it in check.

The BBC’s dusting experts say to (1) use a natural-bristle brush to lift the dust, holding a vacuum hose inches away to suck up the lifted particles; (2) concentrate on the areas of the house between hips and shoulders, the places most visible to guests, and (3) dust regularly but not frequently so as not to increase health hazards, though meaning well, by excessive diligence.

Use a HEPA filter on your vacuum cleaner. Dust often enough to prevent the humidity cycle from laying down that cement-like, microbe-moistened film layer on the night stand. Clean every room thoroughly once a year, rotating from one room to the next each month so as not to live only for spring cleaning—all spring long. Use the right tools or hire a cleaning service, and don’t go overboard with sterilization.

If you’re worried about the effects of toxins on child development, reproductive health, and cancer prevention, there is evidence you should be aware of them in order to mitigate the risks. Above all, spend more time outside the home if you are usually a home body (like me, unfortunately); chances are your indoor environment is much less healthy than the outdoor. Keep moving.

“All we are is dust in the wind,” or, you know, the doldrums. Pieces of ourselves lay scattered about our homes and workplaces and vehicles and yards and apartment buildings, and those pieces are lifted easily when disturbed—that is, until they crystallize on our furniture.

So if you want to make your household objects your own in a really primal way, no need to mark your territory Fido style. Just neglect your dusting for a bit, and voilà, pieces of you are embedded in the baseboards, the chairs, the counter tops, your appliances, your books and electronics, and even the porcelain throne, to say nothing of the carpet. Just be ready to share that space with millions upon millions of other lives.

And remember, if you must clean, you won’t just be killing strangers and unknown neighbors—fungi, insects, mites, plant sheddings, pet sheddings, bacteria, and parasites. You’ll be erasing bits of yourself as well.

This reminds me of the practices of Ethan Hawke’s character Vincent/Jerome in the 90s sci-fi film Gattaca. Working for a space exploration company toward his own voyage to space, the heart-defective Vincent borrows the identity of the genetically perfect but paraplegic Jerome through blood, urine, hair, nail, and other bodily samples that he uses for access and carefully spreads around his workplace while Hoovering up his own “de-generate” cells.

Knowing what Crowd Science has imparted, it strikes me how not only impractical but impossible erasing his true biological identity would really be if anyone in authority had bothered to screen more regularly and rigorously. And outer space would have remained only a dream for our underdog hero, though as he says at the end, we will all still have come from the stars.

Heavenly, long-dead stars or living, putrescent particles, it is all in where—and how—you look.

Rogue One: A Reblog

Reblogged from my friends at Assholes Watching Movies.

Here’s my comment on their post and the discussion (spoilers included).

Agreed about Jyn’s underdevelopment, along with that of Cassian (Diego Luna), and how unconvincing her 180 shift was. Not clear where she gets her fearlessness. Hubby thought this was more of a real story than the others–not just a bunch of explosions–but I think that’s unfair to eps 4-7. I agree with him Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens, but not by much. Tone is slightly different in a good way, but I found this early plot a little unclear, and the darkness felt more bleak due to insufficient character development.

Great K2-SO. Loved the nods to fans, even fighter pilot leaders. Unhappy with the Tarkin CG, I found it distracting, but, yes, a bit inevitable. The Director was a sort of blah as a villain, but high stakes really did come across more strongly for the Rebels than in the other films, except A New Hope. Also, refreshingly, this was the only film in which the question of tolerating oppression arose. As Jyn says, it’s not so bad “if you don’t look up.” It drives home the point that it’s no picnic for anyone under the Empire, not just for the Rebel Alliance.

Cinematically, I loved the shield gate battle on Scarif, like a blend of the space part of the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, with Akbar-like characters, and assault on the Death Star in A New Hope, with the theme of getting into tight spaces to save the day (Jyn and Cassian, and Princess Leia’s officers with the plans). I found what the Empire chose to do on Scarif at the end to be a bit shocking, which stressed their evilness. The battle was a great, complex assault with multiple heroics on the beach, in the tower, and at the planet’s gate.

Yes, as a prequel into A New Hope, Rogue One was seamless and nearly flawless. Key things are explained that we never learn about anywhere else, like energy sources for Death Star and light sabers. Interesting that the Empire uses the Death Star in other, “smaller” ways prior to erasing Alderaan. The only connective improvement might have been a re-showing of the droids on Leia’s vessel to remind us they’d be there. Their single appearance without that felt forced. Darth Vader, yes. More Darth Vader, please. Loved it overall.

ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

k-2so-in-star-wars-rogue-oneRogue One is the movie the prequels should have been. It is fresh, entertaining, and necessary. Rogue One’s humour works for adults as well as five year olds (though any self-aware Star Wars fan must acknowledge that the gap there for us is not all that wide). Rogue One links to what we’ve seen before in a way that feels natural and rewards fans who are familiar with every scene of the original trilogy, and leads into the known end point of A New Hope without any trouble whatsoever.

Rogue One is also a movie that could never have been made under George Lucas’ watch. I do not even want to imagine how he would have approached this story, but tonally Rogue One is entirely different than all the movies that have come before, and better for it. This is not a classic adventure serial, it is a war movie…

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Hannah Heath: 9 Different Descriptive Settings to Use In Your Fantasy Novel (Without Using Forests)

a pressed post

Source: Hannah Heath: 9 Different Descriptive Settings to Use In Your Fantasy Novel (Without Using Forests)

Response – the comment that wouldn’t post:

Great topics, Hannah! Thanks for the photo inspiration, too. I like the rice terrace idea Nathan mentioned.

Let’s see, other settings – canyons, badlands, active volcanoes, forests made of giant stalks of crops (wheat forest!), mine dwellings, something like the chocolate factory, castle as entire world, Africa-like savannahs or bush, underwater bubble worlds, some kind of constantly stormy place.

I’m writing a Through the Looking-Glass fanfic of sorts. I’m keeping all of the original features—chess squares, railway, reedy lake, Knights’ Forest, nearby meadow, Tulgey Wood adding a ravine, Garden of Live Flowers, magical brook crossings, feast hall for Alice’s coronation. I’ve added a river, sea coast, bog, mountains, alpine lake, farm, and Wonderland as the next-door neighbor, at least for now. This is my first foray into fantasy writing, so I’ll have to consider these other ideas! It helped to draw a map.

Does it automatically switch from fantasy to sci-fi if we go to space? Do we care?

Save

The World Cup: Never Final

The 2014 FIFA World Cup Final match plays today at 3:00pm EST, about an hour from now, at the Maracana stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America, Western and Southern Hemispheres, Earth, our solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy. Here.

I’m told you can see the Milky Way, and its gradual tilt overnight, somewhere in the corn fields of Iowa, and perhaps in rural regions the world over. This way is a symbol of constant change and perceived constancy, a swirling path we travel within while ourselves rotating on an oscillating axis and revolving around a sun that rises and sets in this galaxy, just as it does on our planet.

Another setting, another rising have brought us to this day: A global, month-long sports tournament and exhilarating spectacle, recurring every four years for twenty World Cups, once again climbs to a pinnacle and, with the greater speed of gravity, descends to rest dormant–though beating and breathing–in the imaginations and emotions of the everyday lives of fans young and old, spectators old and new.

Courtesy of The Daily Mail - dailymail.co.uk

Courtesy of The Daily Maildailymail.co.uk

Yet the intense work scarcely hesitates, restarting the same process, until the next fourth summer in the Northern Hemisphere (winter in the Southern, as it has been in Brazil).

We live our lives by cycles, by seasons of all sizes and types, returning to familiar states of being, forever saying “so long” to others. A drilling down into the crust of this earth exposes the layers of cycles of our many pasts, in the bones of our ancestors, and some descendants, and in the strata of the living, pulsing planet.

What a rare and wonderful blessing, to feel the security of knowing one’s rightful place in time and space. So few living human beings may luxuriate in such a sense of rightness, and the feeling, like all feelings, is fleeting. How precious these moments in experience.

That they may be shared and collectively enjoyed from time to time amplifies the rightness into greatness, expands elation into rapture. Win or lose, we experience the unmistakable richness of high and deep emotion fused into an undeniable, unified energy.

Together–across the sectors and lines of city, region, country, continent, ocean, and hemisphere; through the boundaries of language, culture, neighborhood, street, household, stadium, and playing pitch–the unity of a common love of futbol, team, and player penetrates.

Sense of place in the real world

View from our upstairs foyer window

View from our upstairs foyer window

My husband and I recently attended an information session about his company’s relocation of several employees to the Orlando, Florida, area. As native and long-time Ohioans, we are reluctant to move. Part of this has to do with inertia. We’re here, we’ve pretty much always been here, we’ve bought a home, our parents are here, we know this place and its surrounding spaces, and we’ve grown to like much of it, to love some things, and to be proud of its being ours. Besides, we’re great ones for progressing at a glacial pace when we do set our hearts on a goal, and the company demands precipitous action.

But there are many other reasons why this specific destination does not appeal, the details of which matter less than the overall effect–the prevailing feeling our thoughts of Orlando create.

Beyond this fact, I have realized that there is something particularly important about staying put in a place you enjoy as the world increasingly expands in the virtual direction. The physical space one occupies seems to become less important the more we imbed ourselves in online cultures and communities, but I would argue the opposite. The more one “lives” online, the more important an enjoyable, comfortable, and vibrant off-line residence becomes.

It has to do with time limits. With the preponderance of time devoted to Web- and computer-based pursuits, those few spare moments interacting with nature’s tangible elements and the earth beneath one’s feet are made more precious for their scarcity. It’s now less about fear of leaving the comfort zone and more about using the physical realm as a stabilizing force for the balance of life.

Considering this, the average reader may think it’s a no-brainer to move to a warmer climate where more time can be spent outdoors easily for a greater portion of the year than in Ohio. Not everyone is a warm-weather person. Some of us need variety and certainly cooler temperatures for more of the year than occur in the subtropical south.

During and after the presentation, I carried myself through all the attractions and detractors of a life in central Florida. For every appealing aspect there was an equally unappealing factor. The attractions are rather obvious with a little thought and tourism research, and it is not my purpose here to flex my vacation-spot promoting muscles. Perhaps the greater curiosity, or puzzle to some of you, are the downside elements. Without further ado:

  • too high of average temperatures
  • too high humidity during warmer months
  • no hills, hillside meadows, or mountains—I need a dynamic topography
  • too much sun—I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’m not a sun seeker; I’d prefer not to start looking my age or older
  • no familiar temperate zone trees—I dislike palm and other southern trees
  • floods
  • hurricanes
  • sink holes
  • no basements—it’s just wrong
  • no snow . . . very sad
  • noseeums, other biting midges, and a high count of mosquitoes
  • large cockroaches
  • no land access to northern states—I’m a Yankee snob, what can I say? While I’m at it, country music and southern accents
  • the thought of Disney World annoys me
  • no familiar wildlife, especially back yard and park birds—see 2013 inventory post for the importance of this to me
  • few placid, swimmable lakes and streams; I’d rather not swim with alligators and large snakes, and I’m not an ocean person
  • a smaller house for a higher price
  • our parents live here—actually a significant problem for our sweet but high-maintenance dog; we would probably have to give her up or put her down (not happening for something like this!)
  • most of my husband’s extended family live in Ohio
  • I would miss my new writer/artistic friends and old friends in the area; I don’t make new ones quickly
  • all our other extended family and friends live much farther away from Florida than from Ohio

It seems like a substantial, compelling list, but that’s only half of the story. The other half concerns all we’d be saying good-bye to. However long the list of cons, however significant the individual negatives, it boils down to the attitude of not wanting to budge just so my husband can keep a certain job with a familiar company. We’re doing alright; we need not feel beholden to the corporation and this opportunity. But I’d much rather revel in the things I love about living in Ohio.

There is still so much to see and do, so much to discover, and so many enjoyable things we already do.

As much as we complain about Ohio’s weather, it is quite preferable to the constantly either freezing or sweltering northern plains, the rain-soaked northwest, the ice-storm laden mid-south, the tornado-plagued central plains, the horribly hot and miserable deep south, including Texas, and the excessively dry parts of the southwest, especially where forest fires and juniper pollen abound. We’re allergic to the juniper, and I need green deciduousness around me from spring to fall. The plants and trees are so pale and dark out west.

I wouldn’t mind Virginia and its surrounding areas so much, but the only other place I would enjoy living would be the New England and New York region. I lived in Massachusetts during college, and I have visited New York City several times. I have also been to Virginia and Florida.

But Ohio is home. I didn’t know how good I had it as a child when I would go biking around and beyond our neighborhood, playing soccer on lush green fields, camping and exploring as a Girl Scout, and boating with my family on the Ohio River, Berlin Lake, West Branch Reservoir, and Salt Fork State Park. By high school, I grew restless to escape my small town, and I am glad I went away for college. During college, my resistance to the place of my upbringing grew, but eventually I made my way back.

I have found by turns satisfaction, delight, annoyance, and depression in my area of residence. Whether northeast Ohio has changed in the wrong ways or not changed enough, I know I have changed. I take fewer things for granted these days. But it’s the people I live among that make this place home.

I communicate with many of them online to some extent, but the chances to see them in person are what I seek and relish most.